"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us." — Franz Kafka
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
To feel myself beloved on this earth.
Raymond Carver (1938-1988)
Valentine for Ernest Mann
You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the off sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.
Naomi Shihab Nye
the angels have no wings,
they come to you wearing
their own clothes.
they have learned to love you
and will keep coming
unless you insist on wings.
Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Derek Walcott (1930-2017)
The Place Where We Are Right
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
Only When I Am Quiet and Do Not Speak
Only when I am quiet for a long time
and do not speak
do the objects of my life draw near.
Shy, the scissors and spoons, the blue mug.
Hesitant even the towels,
for all their intimate knowledge and scent of fresh bleach.
How steady their regard as they ponder,
dreaming and waking,
the entrancement of my daily wanderings and tasks.
Drunk on the honey of feelings, the honey of purpose,
they seem to be thinking,
a quiet judgment that glistens between the glass doorknobs.
Yet theirs is not the false reserve
of a scarcely concealed ill-will,
nor that other, active shying: of pelted rocks.
No, not that. For I hear the sigh of happiness
each object gives off
if I glimpse for even an instant the actual instant -
As if they believed it possible
I might join
their circle of simple, passionate thusness,
their hidden rituals of luck and solitude,
the joyous gap in them where appears in us the pronoun I.
from Given Sugar, Given Salt
Torso of Air
Suppose you do change your life.
& the body is more than
a portion of night — sealed
with bruises. Suppose you woke
& found your shadow replaced
by a black wolf. The boy, beautiful
& gone. So you take the knife to the wall
instead. You carve & carve
until a coin of light appears
& you get to look in, at last,
on happiness. The eye
staring back from the other side —
from the debut collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Horses At Midnight Without a Moon
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there is music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.
Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)